Published by Samhain in 2011
Genres: M/M, Romance
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The bigger they come, the harder they fall... in love.
Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.
Larry's intrigued to find there's more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry's class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.
Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al
Having enjoyed Merrow’s earlier novella, Pricks and Pragmatism, I was happy to see another contemporary title from this author. I was a little iffy on the premise but I read the Kindle sample late one night, immediately bought the book and then didn’t sleep until I’d finished it at about 3am. You might say that I enjoyed it.
I wasn’t sure how on earth Merrow would handle the inauspicious meeting described in the summary and indeed, it’s the kind of set-up which could have been awful in less assured hands. Instead it’s funny and sweet, as we watch Larry and Al misunderstand one another at every turn, Larry because he’s petrified of this enormous man and Al because he tends to misunderstand things a lot.
Of course the majority of the book revolves around what a mismatched couple Larry and Al are; the well-heeled Cambridge academic and the uneducated, working class former bouncer. Their relationship baffles or outrages almost everyone they know (though not always for the same reason) and is a bit of a mystery to Al himself, and yet it works.
The novella is narrated by Al, which allows Merrow to portray his differences and strengths in a way that avoids patronizing him. The reader is invited to take Al as Larry does, looking past the things which others use to disregard him to see the good, kind, talented man that he is. Being privy to his internal thoughts allows the reader to see that, while not the brightest of sparks, Al is far from stupid. This is made most explicit in Al’s art, where he only needs a bit of encouragement to excel.
The narration also means that while the reader is aware of Al’s insecurity in his relationship, it is presented in the same matter-of-fact way as everything he feels (“I know it’s just fucking, Larry and me”) and so occupies far less of the narrative than the summary may lead you to believe. And it’s clearly not just fucking, because sex scenes occupy a refreshingly small part of the novella. Where present they are as well-written as the rest of the book but as a reader who is a bit tired of writers detailing every single sexual encounter, I appreciated the fade-to-black too.
Although I hate the term, Muscling Through really is a feel-good story. Any bumps in the road are realistically portrayed, but quickly smoothed over, keeping angst to a minimum. But more than that, Larry and Al are both so lovely, and their relationship so sweet (in the best non-treacly sense) that it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with them.